The last few days have seen a surprising and encouraging agreement across the political aisle in Maine. Both Republicans and Democrats, of all ideological stripes, have come to the conclusion that a press conference held by 26 conservative Republicans accusing Maine House Speaker Mark Eves of having a conflict of interest (ostensibly because he both supports health care expansion and works for behavioral health provider Sweetser) was ridiculous.
As conservative talk show host Ray Richardson put it:
“Attacking Eves’ integrity on this issue is a side show, a distraction from the details of a very real issue with very real consequences for Maine’s future prosperity. To pressure Eves to step aside on this issue would be the same as asking every teacher who serves in the Maine Legislature to recuse themselves when considering education funding.”
Ethan Strimling notes how quickly the strange standard the 26 are attempting to apply to Eves would result in them them recusing themselves from nearly every vote.
There will soon be a test of how seriously these lawmakers actually take their accusations. On Thursday, the Legislature will likely take up a bill that received a bipartisan committee endorsement on Thursday to place a moratorium on virtual charter schools in Maine. Rep. Amy Volk of Scarborough, one of the 26 legislators who asked Eves to recuse himself, sits on the board of one of the virtual charter schools currently seeking to open up shop.
Volk’s group’s charter proposal was initially rejected in 2012 because it appeared the effort was actually being run by Connections Education, a for-profit virtual schools company, rather than by the non-profit board as required by state law. When questioned about her application by Portland Press Herald reporter Colin Woodard, Volk rather hilariously referred him to a Connections employee.
Yesterday, Volk wrote an op-ed for the Bangor Daily News touting her proposed virtual school. Perhaps realizing the hypocrisy she was skirting, she urged support in general for online schools but refrained from mentioning a specific piece of legislation. The piece identifies her as both a State Representative and Board Chair for the proposed virtual charter academy.
I don’t know enough about her situation to determine if Volk’s position amounts to a legitimate conflict of interest, but it certainly meets the expansive definition she seems willing to push for her political opponents.
Even Larry Lockman, the controversial conservative state representative who led the press conference on Thursday, would seem to agree. In a comment on Strimling’s post, he writes “If Sweetser were a charter school (or *gasp* religious school) and Eves were a Republican, the liberals would be howling.”
I look forward to Volk exercising her new overabundance of caution on matters of conflict of interest and recusing herself from the vote. If she doesn’t, I’m sure Lockman’s press conference attacking her character will quickly follow.